Originally published on Torontoist on November 6, 2014.
While most time capsules are buried in the foundations of buildings, their contents to be revealed at some future date, Cumberland Terrace is a living (if barely breathing) piece of Me Decade retail architecture frozen in time.
Promoted as “the nicest way from Yonge to Bay” when it opened in October 1974, the mall’s resistance to modernization—orange and brown tiles, large banks of phones, signage for chains such as Teriyaki Experience unused elsewhere for decades—gives Cumberland Terrace the feel of a living museum, and makes it perfect venue to celebrate the history of Yorkville.
Trifold Creative, whose recent downtown work includes Adelaide Place and 438 University, has covered the windows of empty storefronts with snippets of neighbourhood history—a project titled “Yorkville History at a Glance.”
According to Trifold’s website, it’s an attempt to “revitalize, direct traffic flow and brighten up Cumberland Terrace’s walkway by creating an engaging yet aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.” Given 9,000 square feet to cover, their designers combined sketches, historic photos, and watercolour splashes on white backgrounds, bringing some light to the dingier corners of the mall.
From stories of Victorian businesses such as Frogley’s Bakery and the Severn Brewery, to tales from the neighbourhood’s hippie era (including a nod to Joni Mitchell), the project covers the breadth of Yorkville’s varied history. Most of the stories run the length of an average storefront, although some stretch out a bit farther—one series of panels offers visual representations of TIFF People’s Choice Award winners, while another salutes the local contemporary art scene with a tribute to the late Walter Moos that incorporates works he displayed at his gallery.
The panels fill space while the future of Cumberland Terrace is determined. Since 2008, several developers have come forward with proposals to bring the site into the 21st century. Owner Oxford Properties submitted a development application to the City this summer based on designs by architectsAlliance. The plan calls for a 54-storey residential tower with a 50-foot lobby surrounded by a revamped mall that will be better integrated into the streetscape.
But until a proposal is chosen and construction begins, visitors may continue to marvel at the time-warped Cumberland Terrace, and perhaps learn a bit about the history of Yorkville, too.
As of June 2018, the history panels are still there, and Cumberland Terrace still awaits redevelopment.